As the once-owner of Salinas Valley Ford Truck Center in Salinas, I find myself grappling with a profound sense of loss and frustration. For more than three decades, our family business provided excellent service to the local community and government agencies. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was reduced to ashes because of a criminal’s decision to break into our property, commit arson and burn the entire dealership to the ground.
As I stood among the wreckage, I couldn’t help but question the priorities of our policymakers. What measures are they putting in place to prevent commercial property crime and how can we better protect the businesses that form the backbone of our communities?
We cannot ignore the fact that crime is on the rise. California’s annual report on crime recently revealed that since 2021 violent crime rates increased by 6.1%, and property crime was up 6.2%. Meanwhile, businesses have become prime targets for thieves and vandals.
In response to the truck center’s escalating incidence of trespass and theft, I diligently applied for a permit to enhance our security measures. However, the bureaucratic process failed us and, as we were in our fifth month waiting for approval, our business burned to the ground.
The frustration that ensues from such a situation is indescribable. Every day that passed without our permit being approved; our vulnerability increased. We were left at the mercy of criminals who saw fit to destroy what we had worked so hard to build. I was constantly living in fear, worrying about the safety of our premises, our employees and our customers.
Business owners should not be left vulnerable to criminal acts while waiting indefinitely for permit approvals. The financial and emotional toll of this incident cannot be overstated, and it is beyond disheartening to know that it could have been prevented by the crime prevention technologies we sought to install.
The burning of Salinas Valley Ford Truck Center is a stark reminder of the urgent need for governments at both the state and local level to allow businesses that create good-paying jobs to implement technology solutions that are readily available to protect their employees from the threat of vandalism and harassment in our communities.
Business owners like me invest not only our capital but also our time, energy and passion into creating job opportunities and contributing to the local economy. Yet, we find ourselves constantly battling against the forces of crime.
One of the hardest days of my life was breaking the news to about 10 highly skilled service technicians that they no longer have a job, and they no longer have a way to provide for their families. I don’t ever want to have to do that again, nor do I want any other business in California to face the same tragedy.
This challenge demands immediate action. Policymakers must rise to the occasion, prioritizing the safety and security of our commercial properties. Streamlining permit processes, investing in effective security technologies and promoting public awareness are essential steps in our collective efforts to combat commercial property crime.
It’s been two years since the devastating fire, and while I wish I could say it has been rebuilt, at the moment, there are little viable options to do so. My sincerest wish is that no one else has to experience this tragedy.
Lars Frieberg was the owner and president of Salinas Valley Ford Truck Center.